SNAP! blog

Pt 4 – On with the show

It took time to negotiate the lease but this was fine; I needed this to draw up plans, to get Marco settled in London, to lock my team in place and, crucially, to confirm the viability of a few special little touches I was determined to incorporate.

My first choice as builder and acoustician was, as always, Stephen Pickford (Fritz) of eHz Limited. With over a hundred professional studio builds under his belt, Fritz combines huge experience with a degree of common sense lacking in so many other acousticians. He has the rare gift of listening to the client’s requirements (no matter how wacky), understanding the customer’s budget constraints and finding ways to fulfil the most demanding brief while working to whatever (reasonable) cash constraints prevail. And crucially, his rooms work. They sound great – flat, uncoloured and capable of great results.

Although always madly busy, Fritz agreed to rejig his schedule to ensure that he could oversee a combination of his building team and mine – the most cost-effective way of tackling the project. For my part, I was more than happy to give him a free hand to incorporate several of his own radical ideas. After all, it’s in my interests to absorb ideas forwarded by experienced, talented professionals in every area.

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Fundamental to Snap, as it should be but rarely is for every studio project, is the very best and cleanest mains electricity supply possible.
I’ve know Rob Haggas of Westwick Installations for fifteen years, ever since he rebuilt my old Neve 5316 and installed it in my Wood Green studio in the mid 1990’s. Although famous as installation manager for such prestigious studios as Air Lyndhurst, Sphere and Mark Knopfler’s fabulous British Grove studios, Rob has devoted much of his time in recent years to installing custom built balanced mains systems in studios around the world, including David Gilmour’s Astoria and (currently) Max Martin’s new studio in Stockholm.

Balanced mains works a little like balanced audio, splitting the mains feed into two feeds with special transformers, enabling any extraneous noise sensed between the two to be drained and thereby eliminated. Telephone calls to existing users confirmed that the result is a lower noise floor, better defined imagery and a generally cleaner, more musical result. Solid, stable studio mains is essential, as it provides a foundation upon which everything else is built – everything.

Together with extra heavy duty copper cabling throughout, a heavyweight balanced mains system for the entire facility would add roughly £10,000 to costs (it would be half this is we restricted the system to the main room, but we decided to go the whole hog. After all, although balanced mains can be added to an existing facility at any time, I reasoned that it would be better to find the extra at the outset rather than attempt to make do with a partial system). So Rob and his partner, Harry Day, were commissioned to take care of the studio electricity supply, in conjunction with Funky’s head tech, the hugely experienced Steve Culnane.

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As always happens, a problem was encountered almost immediately. The electricity feed to the building was a modest ten amps, not nearly enough to give the headroom and capacity to ensure trouble free running of the proposed equipment. Accordingly, £1500 of our contingency budget was eaten up immediately to provide for a 24 amp three-phase feed to the building from the nearest mains inlet to ensure sufficient juice for all the gear and air conditioning.

The moment the lease was signed, walls came down. Within three days we had a shell inside the building, a blank canvass upon which to realise my dream. And within a week, new walls started to go up – a ten day build, which would leave us ready to go to phase two of the project…a first fix for mains, lights, plumbing and tie lines.

I am always astonished at the lack of thought given to studio wiring. Clients will often spend a fortune on outboard or Protools but use whatever comes to hand to lash it all together. Time after time, listening tests have proved conclusively just how much audio quality denigrates through normal cables compared to more expensive, specialist runs. And so it was fundamental to the project that we use the highest possible quality cable for tie-lines to the live rooms. After all, what s the point of having a large, great sounding recording area, and some of the best mics ever made if a few quid is sacrificed transmitting their output to the control room? Accordingly, my colleague, Adam, spoke to his friends at Vovox Cables about using their silver multicore for tie-lines to the main recording areas. Although this added several thousand pounds to install costs, the benefits are unquantifiable. My goal is to build the best sounding studio in London, so factors such as balanced mains and silver cabling are essentials rather than luxuries. And to prove the point, I decided to have a bypass switch added so that customers could hear the difference between ordinary and balanced mains. Similarly, standard (high quality) Van Damme tie lines will be run beside the Vovox cables so clients can A-B the two and hear for themselves the dramatic improvement in audio quality the best cables can offer.

So as the building work progressed, the plans took shape.

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It was decided that every area should have tie lines to both control rooms – studios one and two. This way, clients would be able to use four recording areas at the same time. If, for example, studio one’s private lounge turned out to have a great vibe for vocals, it could be utilised while the rhythm section thrash away in the live room. Similarly, it the kitchen sounds great for drums, let’s use it. Mic lines, headphone feeds and video feeds (in the event we want to film artists for promos) will be everywhere. As well as the usual alarm cables, a host of other cables will be laid in as the infrastructure goes up – cameraphones with door bells for each studio and lounge, activating blue flashing lights rather than buzzers when pressed, studio talkback and reverse talkback plus red recording lights in and outside live rooms, telephone cables activating green lights in the control rooms when the phone rings, internet and Bluetooth…the list is extensive and the planning meticulous to ensure that all cables are hidden, that audio and mains cables are kept well apart and to ensure that not merely will Snap sound great, but it will also look great.

One of the great advantages of the studio is a private garage with separate, easy access, immediately adjacent to the complex. Large trucks can be quickly unloaded, safe from prying eyes, with access to the live room being feet rather than yards from the street. And behind this private parking space is a large storage area, perfect to house unwanted flight cases, superfluous backline, keyboards or drums, ideal for the two EMT140 plates and EMT240 gold foil and even a ready made tile room.

Tile rooms were the earliest form of reverb chamber and remain the most natural sounding reverb device. This small area – around 100 square feet – will be tiled throughout…floor, walls, ceiling…and house a speaker at one end (fed from an amp, itself fed from the console aux sends like any other reverb) and a mic at the other end, feeding back to the desk. The result? The richest, most natural reverberation attainable at any price. The length of the reverb can be varied by moving the mic or speaker and special effects generated in any number of ways.

And why not? Apart from Rockfield in Wales, Snap will boast the only true tile reverb room in the UK, if not in Europe.
Bonkers or what?